New churches are not born, built or made; they are planted. Church planting is what the apostle Paul did on his missionary journeys. First, he preached the gospel in the synagogue and in the marketplace. As people came to faith in Jesus Christ, they were organized into congregations under the spiritual care of elders.
This is not just how the early church grew, it is how Christianity has spread all over the world. Christians carry the seed of the gospel with them wherever they go and it sprouts up into new churches.
Church planting is a major emphasis of our own Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In an era when most denominations are in decline, the PCA is one of the fastest growing Protestant churches in America, primarily through planting new churches.
The reason we are so committed to church planting is obvious: whenever a gospel-preaching, Bible-teaching church is started in a new location, people come to saving faith. So a new church usually begins with the vision to reach a particular community with the good news about Jesus Christ.
There is, however, more than one way to plant a new church. One way might be called the core group model. With this approach, several Christians begin to ask God whether he is calling them to plant a new church. They meet for prayer and Bible study. They gradually add more members until they are able to meet for public worship. This is what Kevin and Sandra Smith are trying to do in Washington, D.C. Through evangelism and outreach, they hope to grow a Bible study into a church.
Another way to establish a new church is to plant a daughter church. In this case, a significant group of believers leave one congregation to start a new one. Often, anywhere from fifty to a hundred singles and families—including church officers as well as a pastor—make a commitment to join the new congregation. This is the way New Life Presbyterian Church has been established in Northeast Philadelphia in the last several years.
I mention all this because the elders of Tenth Presbyterian Church have begun to think about church planting in a serious way. Tenth has helped to plant churches before, both in this city and around the world. Some years ago, we helped start both Promise Presbyterian Church in South Philadelphia and Grace Fellowship in Germantown. We also made substantial financial contributions to help Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York get started.
What is different about the discussions we are now having is that this time we are thinking about actually planting the church ourselves. In other words, we are talking about contributing people as well as money.
If Tenth were to plant any new churches, what kind of commitment would it take? First, and most importantly, planting a new church would demand urgent, devoted prayer. Few things hold greater promise for the future of our city than vital churches. If that is true, then we ought to expect Satan to oppose our work at every turn.
At this point, we are mainly praying for guidance. We do not even know yet whether God wants us to plant any churches. So tonight I ask every member of this church to make a personal commitment to seek God’s will about planting churches in Philadelphia and vicinity. Take this request back to your home Bible study and make it a matter for discussion and prayer.
Planting a new church also takes money, especially to support the minister who does the church planting. This is a serious matter, especially since our Missions Budget is languishing this year. How can we undertake a major new financial commitment without hurting other ministries?
In part, we trust the Lord to provide whatever we need to do whatever he calls us to do. One way the Lord does that is by giving us the grace to give beyond what we think we can give.
It helps to realize what a good investment church planting is. The Lord blesses churches which extend his kingdom. On the average, PCA churches which send a group of members to plant a daughter church replenish the giving they lose within sixth months. Furthermore, church planting is a temporary investment, since within several years, most daughter churches are able to support themselves.
Finally, planting new churches may mean that some of us will go to help plant them. Every one of us should be open to that possibility. If you have given your life to Jesus Christ, then you have already agreed, in principle, to go wherever the Lord sends you. As you pray about these things, let the Lord know that if Tenth helps plant any new churches, you would be willing to go, if he calls you.
Few accomplishments in life have more eternal significance than planting a new church. As we sit here tonight, we thank God for the faithfulness of the men and women who planted this church.
As the city of Philadelphia expanded westward, the members of the Tenth Presbyterian Church, then located at 12th and Walnut, began to consider whether the Lord was calling them to plant a new church. It is easy to imagine the questions they had: Is this God’s will? What neighborhood should we target? How can we afford it? Who will be part of the core group? And so forth.
Those questions needed answers then, as they do now. But God was able to answer them, and to supply everything needed for this congregation. The people who planted a church on this corner made a lasting contribution to the city of Philadelphia and to the kingdom of Jesus Christ. I pray that the Lord would give us the opportunity to make a similar contribution.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org